April 30, 2006

Vladimir Dzurilla

On the night of September 9, 1976 the 17,376 faithful at the Montreal Forum and millions of North American TV-viewers witnessed what many believe was one of the best hockey games ever played. The clash was between the world champions Czechoslovakia and the mighty Canadians loaded with their best pros.

The hero of that night turned out to be pudgy 34-year old refrigeration repair man from Bratislava named Vladimir Dzurilla. He stopped all 29 shots that night and unthinkably shut out Canada in a 1-0 win.

Millions of Canadians were asking themselves "Who the heck is that?"

Dzurilla was unknown to North American hockey fans, but in Europe he was a highly regarded and well respected veteran goalie. He in fact had made his debut on the Czechoslovakian national team 16 years earlier in 1960 and had accomplished a lot on the international level. In the world championship tournaments he had won two gold medals, three silver and four bronze medals. He had also won two Olympic silver medals and one bronze. In 1965 he was chosen as the best goalie of the world championships and he was an All-Star in 1965 and 1969.

Despite his impressive resume, even he couldn't imagine shutting out the strong Canadian team. Both Dzurilla and Canadian netminder Rogie Vachon were brilliant in the game. After the game Ken Dryden, a great goalie in his own right, just shook his head.

"I've never seen goaltending like that" he said admiringly.

Much like Soviet goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak 4 years earlier, Dzurilla quickly captured the hearts of the Forum crowd and a lot of people in front of their TV sets. After the game Dzurilla was given an ovation from the knowledgeable Forum crowd.

Vladimir Dzurilla was born on August 2,1942 in Bratislava, Slovakia. As a kid his mother tried to encourage him to do do something with music but Vladimir preferred to go to soccer and hockey games with his father.

When he was 13 years old Dzurilla visited the best local club in Bratislava, Slovan Bratislava for a tryout as a hockey goalie. They didn't even give him a chance and said "No thanks." So Dzurilla and a friend decided to try out for a smaller club named Kovosmalt Petrzalka. There he was given a tryout and the coach who was a former goalie immediately saw the raw talent in Dzurilla.

Dzurilla played the 1956-57 season for the Kovosmalt team and soon Slovan Bratislava, the club that had rejected him wanted him badly. Dzurilla went on to play for Slovan Bratislava between 1957-73. He then played for Zetor Brno between 1973-78.

Dzurilla, or 'Maco' as he was nicknamed by his teammates still holds the Czech league record for goalies with 571 games played during a 19 year period. He also represented Czechoslovakia 139 games. Only Jiri Holecek has played more games as a goalie for Czechoslovakia (164).

Dzurilla closed out his playing career in Germany where he played for Augsburger EV 1978-79 and SC Riessersee 1979-82.

Dzurilla never played for a North American team, although he was drafted by Edmonton Oilers of the WHA.

It surely wasn't a coincidence, because his older brother Ted had emigrated to Edmonton in 1969. Montreal's GM Sam Pollock was so impressed by Dzurilla's performance in the 1976 Canada Cup that he put him on Montreal's negotiation list although he was 34. Pollock said that Dzurilla showed him enough in that one game to warrant putting his name on the list. Dzurilla however never got permission to play in North America.

Dzurilla was a master at cutting off the angles for opposing shooters. He had a good basic stance and lightning fast reflexes for a man his size. His weakness was that he had a habit of wandering out of the net when he was expecting a shot from outside. Canada's assistant coach Don Cherry noticed that and before the finals told his players about Dzurilla's eagerness to go far out. Eventually Darryl Sittler scored the overtime goal on one of Dzurilla's excursions out of his net.

After his playing career was over he became a trainer in Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Germany. He was also IIHF's (International Ice Hockey Federation) official goalie instructor for young goalies in 1995. His last hockey game came in Stockholm in May of 1995 when the Swedish oldtimers played against the World oldtimer All-Stars. The ever popular Dzurilla, with the trademark smile on his face, won the player of the game award.

Unfortunately he suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Düsseldorf, Germany on July 25,1995, only days before his 53rd birthday.

He was a legendary goalie in Europe and is without a doubt Slovakia's greatest goalie of all time. He had a hockey career that spanned over four decades, but he never had a better game than the night he shut out Team Canada.

- Special thanks to Pat Houda

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